777: NIC publishes final Cambridge Oxford Arc paper
Today’s entry reports on the final report into the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor.
The National Infrastructure Commission was charged with producing a report into capturing the potential of the ‘brain belt’ running from Cambridge to Oxford via Milton Keynes.
It produced an interim report (reported in this blog post) exactly a year before producing its final report last week. The final report can be found here, but here, as always, is a summary and analysis.
The main finding of the report is that housebuilding needs to double to realise the potential of the corridor, enabled by both a new road (the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway) and railway (East-West Rail), to open by 2030.
The ten recommendations can be summarised as follows:
- 1a: do the three main things referred to above, and in a coordinated way;
- 1b: improve links to London (specifically from Bicester, Bletchley and Aylesbury), as long as local authorities commit to major development;
- 1c: focus on either end of the rail line first: Oxford to Cowley by 2019 and a Cambridge South station by 2022;
- 2a: central and local government should work together to decide where new settlements should be (central government deciding if local government won’t agree);
- 2b: establish New Town Development Corporations to deliver these;
- 3: create a design panel to make sure the railway, road and housing are all focused on improving quality of life;
- 4: agree a pipeline of infrastructure investment that comes forward as housing is delivered;
- 5: allow a city-region level Community Infrastructure Levy and greater pooling of section 106 money than is currently allowed; and
- 6: local authorities to be able to be more flexible in their land supply calculations as long as they commit to significant growth.
Boiling those down gets you: incentivise local authorities to buy into the process by getting more money and powers if they commit to a lot more housing along the central spine created by the new road and railway, which should be brought forward as quickly as possible in a coordinated way.
I wholeheartedly agree that the Expressway, East West Rail (EWR) and housing should be developed together and should also have clear objectives – are they to reduce journey times or deliver new settlements (or both)? Just focusing on the former (as HS2 once did) would clearly not be the right way forward, but is still the traditional assumption for new transport projects.
The Expressway and EWR are complementary in terms of what is there at the moment: the road just needs upgrading between Cambridge and Milton Keynes but needs something new between Milton Keynes and Oxford; the railway just needs upgrading between Oxford and Bedford but needs something new between Bedford and Cambridge. In a way, that fixes the route if they are to be close together.
The report can’t resist suggesting where the new settlements should be: one between Bicester and Bletchley, one between Milton Keynes and Bedford, and one to the west of Cambridge, plus major expansion of Milton Keynes, Bedford and Sandy.
It doesn’t, however, contemplate using the Planning Act 2008 regime to deliver the new settlements, preferring to rely on existing but rather old powers to create new towns – the most recent new town was Central Lancashire, designated in March 1970 (Stonehouse, in Scotland, was designated in 1973 but never built).
The last thing we want is a lot of housing without creating communities with appropriate infrastructure and a sense of place, which is no doubt where recommendation three comes from. Whichever legal delivery route is used the incentive should be focused on the quality of life of the people who will live there.
On a final note we need some better branding. The report calls it Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford, the expressway is Oxford to Cambridge and the railway is just East West Rail (ie no names but in a Cambridge to Oxford direction). Any ideas? I’ve heard OxCam, varsity, or even Greater Oxbridge.